Since the inception of the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) in 1884, Gaelic Football (along with camogie and handball) has been a staple of Irish sporting culture. Despite not reaching the financial or global cultural level of international sports such as football and rugby, GAA games provide a remarkable example of thriving amateur sports; existing through the bonds of identity they forge amongst participants and fans alike.
There is plenty of literature on the history and origins of GAA, so we won’t go into that here, but it is well worth reading up on for anyone interested in the birth of the organisation. Instead, we’re going to look at 5 of the most famous GAA matches in history, starting with the Thunder and Lightning Final in 1939…
1. 1939: Thunder and Lightning Final
The All-Ireland Hurling final between Cork and Kilkenny in 1939 is consider one of the most exciting and famous GAA matches of all time. It’s become known as the Thunder and Lightning Final as the game was played during a substantial thunder storm (somewhat ominously on the same day that the Second World War started).
Despite the torrential rain and the news of the outbreak of World War II, more 40,000 fans made the trip to Croke Park for the 15.15 kick-off. As the first half started, the sun broke through the clouds and the rain abated, illuminating a dominant first half for Kilkenny, who went in at half-time with a six point lead, despite playing against the wind.
The second half saw a change in both the game and the weather, as the torrential downpour started again, accompanied this time by huge bolts of lightning and massive thunder claps. Cork fought back and eventually took control of the game in the second half, levelling the scores with a goal in the dying minutes of the game.
As it looked like the match was heading for a draw, Kilkenny rallied and managed to grab a last-gasp winner to take their 12th All-Ireland Hurling title. The weather, the historical context and the dramatic ending to the game ensured that the 1939 final would be forever remembered as one of the greatest matches in GAA history.
2. 1962: The First Ever Televised GAA Match
Another famous match to take place at Croke Park, the 1962 All-Ireland Semi Final between Kerry and Dublin would be the first ever televised GAA match, ensuring that home audiences would forever be able to enjoy one of Ireland’s most beloved sports.
Considering the weekly coverage of GAA matches in Ireland, it seems unthinkable that there was a time when no live matches were screened on television. The first televised game was a huge event in Ireland and was met with positive media coverage throughout the country (although it did spark the debate over whether TV coverage would ruin the sport by causing attendance figures to drop).
The game itself was not the most spectacular, but it will always be remembered by those who caught the match on television and will hold a special place in the hearts of all GAA fans throughout Ireland, as it was the first to bring GAA into the homes of everyday men and women in the country.
2. 1982: Kerry vs. Offaly
This game will be forever remembered amongst both Kerry and Offaly fans, albeit for very different reasons. The 1982 match saw a much-favoured Kerry attempting to become the first county to win five All-Ireland titles in a row, and many saw the game against Offaly as little more than a formality.
As with all great sports however, it’s rarely as straight forward as it looks on paper and the performance of Offaly and the now infamous Seamus Darby would rock the county of Kerry and give Offaly fans a day they would never tire of talking about.
With six minutes to go Kerry were four points ahead, and it looked as though the much-anticipated ‘five-in-a-row’ was about to come to fruition. Offaly had different plans however, and despite the time ticking away they continued with their slow, patient build-up play and found themselves one point behind with two minutes to go.
Then it happened – a passage of play that will be forever remembered amongst GAA fans and a left footed shot that ensured substitute Seamus Darby would etch his name into the history books. A high, probing cross from full-back Richie O’ Conner found the left foot of Seamus Darby, who connected beautifully and rifled it into the net with what would be his only kick of the game. Many Kerry fans argued (and still argue) that he nudged Tommy Doyle out of the way as the ball came down, but the referee saw nothing wrong and the goal was allowed to stand. Offaly won the game thanks to the now infamous Darby goal and one of the biggest upsets in GAA history was complete.
There are of course numerous other classic games that will be remembered amongst fans for decades to come – our mind conjures images of Down vs. Derry in Celtic Park, 1994, Tyrone vs. Dublin is 2005, Armagh vs. Tyrone in the same year and the Leinster Semi-Final replay between Kildare and Meath in 1997 for example – but these three are, in our opinion at least, the standout games in terms of historical and cultural importance, or just for the sheer impact of their results.
Can you think of any fantastic GAA games we haven’t included? Any games you were at that you’ll always remember? Let us know in the comments below!